Behind the Scenes: The Perks of Being a Freight Broker

Published: Aug 13, 2015
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If you ask a freight broker, he or she might tell you that their business is the salt of the earth. As long as there are people roaming this planet, there will be goods in need of transportation, there will be carriers, and, sure enough, brokers.

They will also tell you that the business is changing, or rather evolving, either through new regulations or the demands of new realities. One thing remains the same, however, and that’s striving to do the job well and keep customers happy.

A lot has been said about the logistics of becoming a freight broker – what you need to do in order to comply with all federal and state regulations; what it takes to start your own brokerage and learn the ropes to stay in the game and have a successful business.

There are some nitty-gritty details, however, that involve more of what goes on in the backstage of the industry. It involves the daily problems of brokers, their personal challenges, and, sometimes, the decision to leave the business if the pressure gets out of hand.

We asked people from the industry to share their thoughts on the human side of being a freight broker, along with how the regulations introduced in recent years are changing the dynamics of the business.

Here’s what they said.

The Balance

Isn’t that a universal question? How do we all manage to balance our life and work activities without hurting our personal or business relationships in the process? Tough question. Some say that the definition of work-life balance is daily achievement and enjoyment, in every sphere of our lives. Only then we can get that feeling of fulfillment.

For many freight brokers, the day has already begun by 7am. From then on, it’s a roller coaster of answering emails, returning and making phone calls, checking the boards for available cargo and equipment, dealing with delays, accidents, or cancellations, and more. Over the years, brokers report that they learn to accommodate the stress and the pressure. And by the end of the day, if they’ve managed to achieve their goals; to tackle all ongoing and fresh problems with relative success, they most look forward to going home and spending some quality time with family. The question remains, how do you fit it all in?

As Chester Starling Jr. from Highland Trucking, Inc. puts it: “I’ve been in the business for 50 years, [I have] seen a lot go and come; learned and still learning how to balance business with family.” Then the veteran freight broker admits: “I mainly pray a lot.”

The Problems

Undoubtedly, any of you could write a book about the problems that arise on the job. Some of the setbacks are part of the package – accidents, delays, and unhappy customers. Others are also an invariable aspect of the business, such as technical issues, miscommunication, or just bad luck.

However, if poor communication between you and the customer/carrier occurs, “slow down and measure twice, cut once,” advises Dennis Brown, owner of FreightBrokerBootCamp.com, an online training program. Retract, evaluate, and try to fix it.

Yet, one particular problem seems to be at the bottom of the successful freight brokerage business – finding and booking the RIGHT truck. And by the right truck most brokers mean experienced, disciplined, and dedicated truck drivers who can be trusted. As most freight brokers well know, these drivers aren’t always easy to find.

The Qualities

Just like with any other job, possessing a certain set of qualities will either make you or break you.

The most important of them is honesty, says David G. Dwinell, owner and expert trainer at LoadTraining. “Your job is to keep all the carriers that take your arranged load fat and happy,” he says. “Without their good will, a broker will starve to death.”

What’s more, considering the load of everyday responsibilities, a freight broker should be good at multitasking, in addition to excellent verbal and written communication skills, says Dennis Brown. Also, a freight broker must “not be easily rattled or upset, and not be afraid of rejection.”

Along with those qualities, industry experts agree that getting hands-on experience is vital. Prior driving experience, or working for a trucking company that also brokers freight, will put the job into perspective for everyone who wants to become a freight broker.

If no such scenario is possible, then there are training courses available, taught by pros with lots of miles behind or with great knowledge of the industry’s ins and outs.

The Training

To ensure your future success, don’t enter the freight brokerage business unprepared. You can either get online or classroom instruction, says Brown. Or better yet, talk to a local broker and do an apprenticeship for a year or so. “I also suggest they participate in some form of sales training or coaching – online or otherwise,” he says.

David G. Dwinell has a more specific advice for beginning freight brokers: 84 hours of study. Broken down it looks like this: 20 hours of some study, 34 hours of hands-on training, and 30 hours of on the job training.

Whatever suits you best, but in any case, pick the brains of an experienced professional before you start your freight brokerage. The industry is changing and you need to be well equipped.

The Changes

Back in 2013, the controversial MAP-21 law took effect and stipulated an increase of the freight broker bond from $10K to $75K. The uproar that followed was because of fear that many brokers will be forced out of the industry unable to meet that requirement. Many didn’t survive, indeed.

Envisioned as a guarantee against foul practices that could hurt all sides involved, the bond increase appears to have gotten rid of unethical brokers, according to Brown. “I’m happy to see they increased the minimum standards in an effort to protect carriers from unethical brokers,” he says. The expert also commented that the bond increase led to financial stability within the industry, because the average credit score of new brokers is higher now than before, thanks to those new and more strict requirements.

Speaking from personal experience and long years in the business, Chester Starling Jr. from Highland Trucking, Inc. said that to avoid higher premiums you need to avoid claims as much as possible. This would mean using the best truckers you can find for your customers. The seasoned freight broker also said that the bond increase did not affect his financial stability. What have you got to say about that?

Is Freight Brokerage Still a Good Business to Be In?

A collective “Yes” seems to be the answer to this question.

As an active freight broker, Starling thinks that the business is good for those who have the resources and the experience, along with the proper training. It’s what it takes to do the best job for your customers, he says.

Elaborating further, the training expert David G. Dwinell says that the need for competent professionals is growing by the hour. The reason: broker-contracted freight is becoming increasingly difficult to move and the supply of trucks is getting tighter. However, only the fittest will survive; those with the right experience, and an aptitude for financial management.

The same sentiment echoes in the Dennis Brown’s words, that in a time when the trucking industry continues to struggle with driver shortage and capacity issues, staying in the business while remaining flexible is the recipe for success.

What is Your Recipe?

Share with us your doubts, challenges and good practices that contribute to your good business standing and financial stability.

 

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Victor Lance is the founder and president of Lance Surety Bond Associates, Inc. He began his career as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving two combat tours. As president of Lance Surety, he now focuses on educating and assisting small businesses throughout the country with various license and bond requirements. Victor graduated from Villanova University with a degree in Business Administration and holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.